Joe Posnanski on the Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini

Automatic TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to ECON talk part of the Library of economic liberty. I'm your host Russ Roberts Stanford University's Steve Hoover Institution. Our website is ECON- Talk Dot Org or you can subscribe comment on this podcast and find links and other information related to today's conversation. I should also find archives. We listened to every episode. We've ever done going back to two thousand and six or email addresses mail at ECON. Talk Dot Org. We'd love to hear forget cricket. Today's number six twenty nineteen and my guess is journalist and author Joe Stansky. Joe Is probably my favorite Sports Puerto working today and maybe my favorite writer period. He is a senior writer for the athletic and he blogs Joe Bloggs his latest book and the topic for today's episode which is a little out of the ordinary contact. But I think you'll see how ties in his latest book is the life and afterlife of Harry. Houdini show talk. It's great thank you. This is very strange and delightful book. It's strange because it is not really a biography of Houdini. It looks like one the life. Aw but the turns out. We don't know much about them. That's reliable and I would describe it more as an amish to the idea of Houdini the impact of Houdini on the world even today. And let's start off with. Why did you decide to write a book about somebody who died? I think in nineteen twenty six. Yeah but it's still very much alive Why this style of book? Yeah well the why. Houdini is certainly the question. I get asked the most as a sports writer But it's Sir if it relates a little bit too sports into sort of what I've I've always viewed my my career what I've done. I think that as a sports writer and in other other ways I've always tried to write about wonder this idea of wonder these ideas these little explosions in our minds. That that you know open up the world world a little bit. And whether it's writing about baseball writing about Bruce springsteen or writing about moments with my daughters and I I've always felt like there was some connection there and I really wanted my next book to reflect that to to to sort of be a story of wander which is how I viewed this and and I was looking for a vehicle away to tell that story and I thought that actually came to mind was to write about Babe Ruth to do a biography of Babe Ruth. But it's been done a lot and and I new there wasn't well and done very well done very well and there was a major babe ruth book coming out by a friend of Mine Jane Levy and and so you know. That wasn't interesting to me by. I started thinking well. What about Harry? Houdini here's a guy who as you mentioned died in one thousand nine hundred eighty six. He was you know she was a new New York street Urchin basically who decided to go into magic failed. Essentially as a magician came up with this concept of escape deep in handcuffs and and straitjackets and water torture cells. which you know? They'll seem so of its time and yet here we are one hundred years later and he's still the paragon magic he's the he's the person that everybody knows. And I. I wanted to know why I really did. So part of my Thing that I really enjoyed about the book is is to realize how ubiquitous he is today. I'm going to read a a very vary a short passage from the book. We say you know. Why do we know anything of this? Why do we know any of this? We're closing one hundred years since his death and yet when a thief in Bangkok DOC slips out of his handcuffs and alludes a dozen police officers. What do they call them? Houdini a baby in moon during Australia. Continuously escapes a crib to to the dismay and panic of her parents and the newspapers dubbed her Houdini baby a dog keeps slipping out of the yard and creating Havoc Neighbors Guard in Melbourne Florida and is similarly called Houdini dog. This is unoriginal newspapers in San Diego des Moines Rome Amsterdam Northland and also call particularly troublesome pooches. Houdini and you mentioned I think either an article in the book that you have an alert. Google alert on Houdini. Whats that LEA- led to? It's it's incredible. I set up that alert probably a day two days into my process every single day since there's been some Houdini story and often twenty-five Houdini stories and it's about a politician who gets out of a crisis or a or a sports team that gets out of a tough loss and And and the picture that gets out of a bases-loaded jam it's he's everywhere in this very very small way to the point where I think he's you know he's become not just a word but he's become a theme like an idea of what the greatest possible escapes can be and yet he he was Gesta Esta. You know as as as I write in the book you know he was. He was just a a performer. WHO figured out a way to to to make a living and and it's So fascinating to me. So let's do a thumbnail sketch of what we do know about him which I just want to say after we agreed to do the interview. Even after I read the book I asked. I don't know ten people just for fun Young old born in America born outside of America. Who is the greatest magician of all time? eight or nine of the ten immediately without thinking just said Houdini right Someone born in Israel said David Copperfield revealed. I thought it was very impressive. I said well how about someone from the past. Oh Houdini 'cause the first thing Then I asked them How did he die and they most of them said did he drown in a doing one of his tricks that failed I say? How old was he? A lot of people said thirty. which would I guess? I always thought he died young. Tell US actually a brief thumbnail the arc of his life. Yeah deceptions challenges of trying to decipher the man given that he was very he's very elusive. He's incredibly elusive. And and basically there are no facts about that seem that seem real but the but we know the general animal ark of his life and and so fascinating that that you would say that about people because most people do think he died in the water torture cell which is how he died in the movie. That was that was that that was the movie version with Tony. Curtis Janet Leigh and that's how he died and so people think that's a fact but the the basics of his life or he would tell people he was born in Appleton Wisconsin on April six nine thousand nine hundred thousand eight hundred seventy four. That was it the opening line to the most sort of personal essay he ever wrote about himself off was I was born in Appleton Wisconsin United States on March April. Sixth eighteen seventy four and not one thing including including the date is true. Not One thing is true. He was not born an awful that he was born in Budapest and came over when he was four and he it was so convincing by the way that fifty years after his death a magic committee was put together by the International Magic Association. Put together this committee justified out where he was born. They called it the Houdini birth committee and they travelled around the world essentially to find out where Houdini was really born because he was so convincing it was born in. Budapest came to to Appleton when he was four and his father was the rabbi of the of the new synagogue. That wasn't even built yet. They were still meeting at houses and in local churches where they Where they let him in He was fired shortly after that and never really held another steady job. He was a he he tried to be rabbi in Milwaukee and New York and and couldn't make it so very very poor when he was twelve. He ran away from home job to try to Houdini. Houdini that his father Houdini ran away from home to try to make a living. And and and send money back home at fourteen moved to New York. Your went to work for a neck where factory and I came up with this notion of being a magician and I think a lot of people know he. He had read. Read the autobiography of the Father of Magic Roberto Don and so fell in love with it that he called himself Houdini by adding an eye to the end of and Who Don the you know the last name? He thought it was pronounced. Who did he and a friend became the HOUDINI brothers and for the next seven or eight years he he scuffled around? I'm trying to make a living as a magician. Tried to make it as a comedian as a as a singer as an actor anything to be on the stage and was having no no lock at all was ready to give magic was just about at the break. He he put out a a catalog where he offered. All of his secrets. for a price all of everyone my favorite breaking the code of of the magician. Exactly my favorite one of those was because he said specific tricks he would t t the needles trip for a dollar fifty would teach you how to escape from a box for ten dollars but my favorite line. They're the one that's sort of shows the depth of his despair was he offered. All I've ever learned about handcuffs chains and escape price on demand like he could. He didn't he didn't even know it was worth it is. It was just price on demand. Nobody wanted any of his secrets. Not One person responded and he was at the brink of giving up when the he ran into the luckiest break of his career ran into a guy named Martin. Back who is now is. Is there still the Martin Beck Theatre in New York at the time ran rammed the orpheum circuit of Vaudeville he. He liked what he saw a little bit with. Houdini called them to dinner Him Bassett dinner and he basically told him quit his wife. BESS is his wife. Yes back basically told Houdini and bass give up the magic. You're no good added this. I just WANNA I just WANNA interrupt your per sack. In the course of writing the book talked to some of the greatest living magicians if not all of them Both big recall big stage. Magicians like David Copperfield. And sleight of hand people like Joshua J. Yes and Anyone interested can go on the Internet and look up Joshua J. or ricky. Jay Who you talk about is brilliant. Yes hard people So so big and small. A lot of them are S- I would say tormented by Houdini. Yes because almost all of them were touched by him in some way and their career path. don't know much about him inevitably because of what we're talking about now and think he wasn't very good magician hard for them to cope with a let me. Let me put it this way. You mentioned Josh Joshua J.. Who is a you should look? Look them up on on youtube or his genius or you go to New York and see his amazing show six impossible things. He's he's extrordinary But I just didn't event with Josh Josh. And at which was wonderful and he's he's become a very good friend and we were talking about this very thing. Somebody was saying because it's a consensus that as a magician when you're talking about card magic or state magic or illusion or any of these things that Houdini was lacking but he was not very good second rate an all of these things. Yeah and Josh. Put it in a way that I've never heard. I asked him if he'd ever said that before he said No. I thought of it on the spot. He he said it would be like in a hundred years from now. Somebody said who was the greatest musician of two thousand nineteen and it was a wild consensus that it was Miley. Cyrus Sedgley the greatest guitarist singer the greatest everything. Because that's how people view Houdini so at this point go back back to the the the the bio he's struggling and scuffling gets this break and becomes a phenomenon as an escape art. Yes almost immediately and it was after miles of in a Martin back said that he said do the do the escape. That's what you're good at. He does that for a while and then he he has to take it up a notch. Watch yeah we're going to talk later about why he takes it up a notch and he starts appearing to at least put his life in danger escaping from sealed milk cans in the water torture cells jumping into rivers Hanging upside down. You know five stories above the ground. He had to add the threat of death to into the act and by then he's already world famous but as as I'm sure we'll discuss it it. It was never enough and he had to just keep going higher and higher and higher. We're GONNA talk about that tied into Adam Smith. Of course listeners will not be surprised to discover of course How does he di he does not define the water torture? Cell is as you know He dies he died essentially of of peritonitis which was he had his appendix removed. He had appendicitis into some very very bad case of appendicitis and by the time is appendix was removed. He The the poison already leaked into his body and and and he died. I'd five days. After his appendix was removed. The big issue. The big question is how did he get appendicitis and and dirty either he he got appendicitis Bositis and ignored it for a little while before his. What is you know? Now many people know is is the famous punch to the stomach or the the punch to the stomach itself caused a appendicitis and nobody knows for sure but essentially he was in Montreal and he was doing an interview with With with Some college reporters and this guy came in and said Mr Houdini. I've heard that you've you challenge anybody. You can handle a punch to the stomach. Anybody Can Punch you in. It will have no effect on you and Houdini. He was already in pain. He'd broken his ankle Doing the water torture Sal. He was old. Everybody was fifty two when he died and most people think he it was much younger than that but he was still performing and still still at his height of fame and he said he didn't WanNa talk about the punch to the stomach. Nobody knows for sure or if he ever really did challenge anybody to punch him in the stomach. It's it seems a silly thing but but Houdini challenge people to do all kinds of silly things so nobody really knows but he he did accept the challenge. Eventually but while he was getting up from the couch and before he was ready the student punched punched in the stomach as many as ten times and before Houdini finally held up his hand and said that will do and and then he fell back into the couch. ended the interview not abruptly but said Okay I need to go and he was in agonizing pain but he refused to go to the hospital so it's hard to understand why that sequence of life events is Andres later it almost two hundred years later still talked about and of course the other party or book which we probably won't talk about so much but there's a non trivial number of people in the world alive today who are not just. It's interesting guy. Yeah they're obsessed with them. They're like changed by. Yeah so this. This is really unusual now. One Way to think about this. I don't think it's correct. But it's interesting Chuck closer on this program talking about his book. But what if what if we're wrong and in that book there's a chapter which we discussed which is how is it that when you ask people what the great American novel it's Moby Dick Right that wasn't true in nineteen ten say I'm guessing but there were points in America. It wasn't until a certain point where that became the answer. What's the most famous or greatest painting of all time? The Mona Lisa really In eighteen fifty that was not true right And then he spends a fascinating amount of time wondering who will be considered. It's it's not. It doesn't list my recyling who will be considered the greatest rock and roll star right. When it's a short era? You know the the rock and roll era. Who Will it be chuck? Barry is it Bob Dylan is it who who will be the person that that people fixate on and you could argue and I think it's false in this case but you go. You could argue that one one more. Sorry who wrote the greatest marching band songs. All John Philip Sousa. He wasn't the only one but he's the only one that we remember. Yeah and so you could Dr Grow. Houdini is the Vaudevillians Street. Performer magician guy from the early part of the twentieth century. There were a thousand sure. But he's the on that people latched onto and now we've decided I don't think that's the case but that's one possibility. Sure sure but there are other answers. What would you say if you had to answer that question why is his fame mystique so lasting? Yeah and it's a great question. And I love the Claustrophobic Book Book On that chapter and and and totally buy into it but one thing that is so interesting about him being so famous is there have being other incredibly famous magician since his time or rat right and. That's what the you know because if somebody mentions David Copperfield. There's never been a magician. Whose had the success David Copperfield? David Copperfield billionaire David. Copperfield owns islands. I mean he's he's been seen by more people and paid by more than any magician ever and and then there are all these others David Blaine and Penn and teller who are incredibly famous an incredibly popular And yet Houdini even them have and then of course all of the people between you know he in his time You know there was a Guy Howard Thurston who was Sibley more popular than than Houdini as a magician jeopardy confident there isn't a single listener to this episode. Who could have been that's right? That's right and yet. In his time he was he was de the magician. You know and so so I think there's something more and what I what I believe is I believe it's a a wide series of events and breaks and things but I think the key is. I don't think anybody has ever been devoted to being famous as Harry dating. I think he wanted to be immortal and spent his all of his life and all of his money and all of his time to make that happen and and his devotion Russian team self and to his fame is lasting. Memory is it's it's odd and inspiring and and not particularly likable in there. Lots of things about it. Yeah reminds me a little bit of Of Ted Williams who allegedly said when he he was a young kid. I walk down the street right when people see me they go. There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived right and you could argue. It's not opening shot but you can actually make the case when you look at his loss. Four years he's is did the top follow. Yeah if not number one or two three at worst so he he had a dream he pursued it relentlessly. He was not a very likable person. Actually Houdini trouble with his family And yet there must have been dozens. Thousands of other young men who wanted that vision didn't make it so it's not enough to wish that it's true and it's it's really interesting. He's because ten Williams is a wonderful comparison in that in that desire to sort of reach this level of immortality that nobody else has. Yeah but tha and the other thing I would add. Is that both men in a time before the Internet before cable. TV somehow managed to be world famous in an incredible credible way this celebrity is this modern thing. It's not no no and in many ways those those people took it to a level that even today today you know today you can. You can put something on twitter and become pretty you can go viral and it was. You had to work go viral in those times but what I would say is this is a is a very worthwhile comparison with Ted Williams says Ted Williams relentlessly worked on his heading at the right. Nobody has ever worked on his craft the way that he did and Houdini worked on his craft too. But the difference is Ted Williams didn't relentlessly work on being promoted right after after he didn't he didn't have but he but he fought with reporters and he he did not he didn't he didn't plant stories of himself. Doing all these amazing things Dini dead. And and so who Dini's I didn't Houdini. He's relentlessness the way that he worked the media the way that he the way that he created these events sense that that are larger life. I think I don't know maybe P.T. Barnum I ever tried to do it that way so I think there's another thing I'm going to hold off on but I wanna I wanNA give one more possible theory that you talk about in the book I think very poetically. which is there's something about escaping? Yes and just talk about that. No that's that's that's right and and I think he wants. He realized that that was. That was a huge part of his success but but there is a there is I think universal sort of admiration for escape from whatever. It is like that moment. You feel like you're lost that moment. What you feel and personal you know where we want to escape from situations all the time But it's also global. I mean I think that one of the most exciting adding things in football is seeing a quarterback who looks like completely surrounded you know of course the most famous one most famous plays in Super Bowl. History is you know that the against the Patriots and giants and we don't WanNa talk we probably don't WanNa talk about are there but I i. I was afraid you might so. Let's just just by sometimes types quarterbacks escape some does quarterback escape but it is but it is thrilling in a in a different way from almost anything else and and and you know pitcher's getting out out of a bases loaded jam I mean there's there's some heroin tied to the railroad tracks. It's it's not Fisher Motif and and and he not only Sort of reset different level with it but it does amaze me that after all of these years we don't have another example of it. I mean there's so many you talk about this. As Ah the MOTIF who escaped more things than James Bond Ride James Bond constantly escape right shoulder and everything else and yet we don't they always pull the James Bond on. We pulled a Houdini. Houdini still you know and I think again. It's it's he understood people's feelings about it. He knew how to take it up to higher red higher and higher levels as he went and and he's still he's still the very essence of escape and our minds. Somebody gives you a different a different theory. I thought operating representing the book. which is I think as you say people think of him as a magician? It's not literally accurate. Already he did. There's something magical about what he did and he tried to perform magic right but clearly. He was a magician in the very innovative sense that when he was under a tarp chained manacled handcuffed in a milk can and came out. There's that's a lot like cut somebody in half and put put them back together so happened there. I can't understand and I'm amazed by right so the the idea I wanNA put forward is. He was the first performance. It's artist. He was doing performance art. What what we now call performance? Meaning he was putting himself. He made himself vulnerable in front of a large crowd. And and we recently talked about Marina Abramovich With Ryan Holiday. She had a I've forgotten the details is but she gave up a stranger a loaded gun and let that stranger point pointed out pointed at her. And that has I mean. That's so Houdini ass right. It's like yes I everyone in the audience thinks at least That this could end in death Obviously it's part of the appeal of of Nascar of car racing but death defying somehow and. I don't think it's in. My mind is not so much escape as it is death defying or mortality. He is so haunts us and to see someone come face to face with it and get away is exhilarating in in a way. No you're you're absolutely right. You know part of part of this book I took my daughters and my wife To see a show where where someone was escaping from water torture yourself and it was a different explain what that is by the way for people whose out the water torture cell was a complete Houdini invention and it's just A. It's actually much smaller than you would think it is. But it's a box where he was lifted up upside down by this by this kind of crane contraption and then lowered in upside down into this fully loaded water sal and and then it would go all the way down to the point where it locked up on the top and he would be under water submerged and you would see him under water submerged for a few seconds ten seconds fifteen seconds it. He's holding his breath and he's not moving. He's not doing anything thing. And then the Kirk would drop and and it would be a few minutes and people would be the audience freaking out and crying and losing their minds until Houdini Dini showed up and he would come out completely wet and perfectly healthy and all of the curtain comes down around the box. That's not. He doesn't is a backstage where somebody can lift about. No Fox's covered. Yes the boxes just cover that no one seems to go near him. That's right and he's handcuffed inside the handcuffed inside the box. It's yeah so he created this thing so we saw a version of this because people still do it. There's several people still do it. So we saw version of the water torture saw. That was much different because the whole thing was exposed. It was you. You can actually see the person trying to escape which was not out Dini did but I watched i. The the performance this was was was wonderful. And all that but I watch my daughters and how they were ripping the side of the chair and how scared they were. And how how you know. The clock is ticking. Picking just the way it was with Houdini. And and you're thinking about how long you can hold your breath. And and and they're panic. I mean absolute panic until the relief leaf when when he escapes and and I think that feeling is exactly the same. I don't think that that human feeling is has not changed at all so I I definitely agree with that. And you point out the book that many of his escapes were under curtains tarps etcetera but the straight check at one he would ride around on the stage and watch his Agony and and and then he had variations where he would come out from under the tarp still manacled not in the water one but still manacled still handcuffed ask I hey to have his jacket removed and and and the audience is not this could be a failure he might not make it You know it's very it's similar to the the card sleight of hand performer. Who says is this your card and sometimes it's not? Yeah you tend to see the ones where it is but everyone goes a little bit wrong and in these cases again life and death was on the line and now it exactly how they were done. there's speculation and one of the things I love about your book and we're not going to spoil. This here is that I'm about two hundred fifty it's about a three hundred page book Two hundred and fifty pages in You finally tell me something. I had already noticed which is like come on how to do these things. You're very careful not to do that. And I thought we won't do here. But of course people have speculated as you point out and get on the web and find it all you want now. If you're yeah I thought it was important because this book to you know was it was as much about wonder and that notion as it is about Houdini if not more I didn't WanNA reveal and the only the thing I do reveal. Well there are two things one. I offered a theory that I have about about what's called the mirror cops which probably don't want to go too deep into but it is one of his greatest escape and is one that we still no matter how far you look. We don't know for sure how he did it. And and there are many theories about it. But there's no actual solution to how did it so I offer my theory because might be wrong and then one other one That offer a little secret and it is only only because I think it reveals something about Houdini and and and and doesn't really tell you how he did the trick but it reveals a little Something interesting about Houdini. But yeah I mean that was that was really important to me to to maintain some of that mystery. Because I think that's part of why it's so much harder to to inspire inspire wonder today. You know if somebody does a magical performance on television you see it on pen. Teller's fool us or on America's got talent or whatever over the next day. There are thirty five youtube videos explaining exactly how it was done. And you don't have to look at them but they're there and it's easy and it's and it's it's hard to believe in something you know bigger and more magical especially because quite often these these secrets these these behind the scenes. They're disappointing. I mean you you have this big idea. Mind how somebody does a trick and then you find out. It's just a piece of threader better and it's like that that doesn't that sort of bust. The bubble a little bit so I was. I wanted to be very careful not to do any of that so I want to. Let's talk about wonder. And then we'll we'll move on to fame TRY TO Deep deep themes of this book I I think it's incredible label insight to realize that people don't want to know. I think in a way you could say. There are two types of people there'd be how'd you. How'd you come on high? How'd you do it and we we all have a short? We also have the the idea that wouldn't it be wonderful when bad choice award wouldn't be extraordinary if there's something here but that's not explicable. Yeah it's a missed a fundamental mystery that this person has somehow the ability to do something that the transcends Hiding something up his sleeve right. Yeah well I I. I have a very personal view of this because I have two daughters and I do magic tricks for them from time to time and I have one daughter my younger than before you could. I did even before wrote the book I would say. It's picked up the book but yeah I always liked it. I always loved doing Lucar. treks little you know little slights. I'm not good at it but I was good enough when they were young to be able to fool them and I did. My Greatest Cartwright for them shortly after the book was was finished and my younger one my my younger daughter was now fourteen. Katie she she was. How did you do how do out? And she's not stopped just asking me over and over and over even started to tell her no and I'm not gonNa tell her I told her I'm not gonNa tell her but my older daughter who's eighteen Elizabeth. She as soon as I showed it she loved it and she's a pretty cynical. She's a teenager icicle teenager. She said don't ever tell me how you did it. I I want to. I love that trek. I want to hold it and I and I thought well. That's we all have a little bit of both of those things in there and and so I think it's harder now now to to feel wonder because we we know so much and we can grow so cynical and it's it's it's just a you know it's just a a different time and anxious time and and I I just think it's. It's much harder to to be able to just say okay. You know I I want to stop here and feel all this. You know. It's it's just impatient and it's difficult to do that but I think it's important I think I think it's an important part of our lives to be able to to not be cynical and all the time and and sometimes just go. Wow I just want to take that in as a piece of art you know or one of the things I thought of from your book and you're right about your daughters and other places story just mentioned a credit in many ways is going to sound ridiculous but in many ways I think parenting parenting a huge part of parenting is for me anyway was about instilling. Wander my children now for me. It covered a very wide spectrum. I'm religious for that so religion was part of that. Wander the mystery of the universe and using religion as a way to express that Sports the miraculous events of sports the seeming. You know not just that escape but the pennant race. The person under pressure who does something unimaginably Ballot check and an elegant and under the toughest circumstances and something else. I know you've written a lot about musicals taking my kids musicals to see something. Imagine that you can't see anywhere else in that that feeling and whether and one more hiking in places like you're semi absolute so all those to me are I would actually categorize them as religious experiences as a religious person but you don't have to be religious to fill wonder. Obviously I think it's deeply embedded in us and many ways growing older is about the death of wonder. Yeah because children can't imagine how you made that penny come from behind their ear. I there's something gloriously beautiful about that and and to retain that that sense of wonder as you grow older is is I think a huge part of being successful adult. So I think you're right and I you know I. Of course I've seen it many many times sports. It's but I just had this fascinating little mobile so my my older. I'm actually about to write about this. My older daughter after seventeen and a half years of or even fully eighteen years of caring nothing about sports other than it being the thing that takes data way you know. Just no interest has become a passionate passionate Kansas City chiefs fan To to to a great extent and it's fascinating to watch cause I'm watching my own childhood. It's so interesting I I had this moment. She doesn't know that much about it she. She's learning all the time and she just she. She fell. Patrick Mahomes quarterback and you know it built. Isn't he's a magician. He's a magician is an absolute magician. But we had this moment and I and I love this so much we were watching and they you know they went away to New York to show a highlight and they showed a running back there on the one yard line. I don't even remember what team it was online. They handed the running back. He jumps over the pile to score score the touchdown and it's a play that people who have seen sports watch football s seen a thousand times. But she'd never seen that before it and she said my gosh he just jumped over them like outage due out and it was so great it was just such a cool feeling of seeing her. Discover over this thing that we've just taken for granted and we shouldn't it's it is extraordinary that you can play football. You can have offensive lineman defensive lineman smashing into each other and a guy athletic enough to jump on. It takes fly. It's amazing and I love that so much to me. Like that's those are the moments that I that I cherish. Now we've talked on this program about mindfulness and and for me a lot of what meditation and mindfulness or about is preserving wonder it's about appreciating the wonder of daily life which after a while we get jaded we grow up. We've Seen Thousand Times doesn't impress his and what I try to do. Is I think like I use this example before you know when when I hear and see the geese flying in formation overhead on Chris Fall Day with the sun coming through the leaves seen in two thousand times. I want to enjoy it as if it were the first time I try to. It's not easy. Don't always succeed mostly fail but I think makes life a lot. Richard you can tap into them. I think that's right. I I've written about this before that and this is just a silly little thing that I do but I do it every time I've been on as of you. How many flights have we been on our lives right? I mean countless flights and travel is so wearying and it's gotten worse and we all know that but when I get on the plane and the flight the plane is about to take off. I always look out the window and try to think. What am I seeing? This is a miracle. It's a miracle every single tactic. Yeah yeah I I Expression Hebrew that we say On Saturday morning morning kadarshian maintenance which literally translated means renew. It's often translated renew our days as of old which is a I think it's not what a great translation? But but it's basically saying and this applies to to marriage. It applies to persuade everything in life. It's like why would you fell in love. You know when you've been married. I've been married thirty years. I still love my wife and but it's different in many ways. It's better than it was when we first met. But I I WANNA hold onto that beginning as well. I think that preciousness of new and and the wonder that's it's there is is just support part of being human. I don't I don't you know I'm getting Maudlin here in a little bit cliche. But it's it's so important I think so too and and honestly it makes me feel so great to have this conversation about this book because that is the goal of this book the goal is just to think about that kind of stuff and you know you're writing about a about a vaudeville performer. Former who was a bully time and mean and and and and you know it was incredibly testicle and all of these things that people don't like about out him but he was able to inspire this in people this feeling you know and and whatever his motivations were which were you know the could be any number of motivations he did and that's what fascinates me about him and that's what's so interesting and I think something that we can. We can learn from and and develop because I think it's it's never been more important you know and it and it you know it'll never stop being important to be able to grab those moments in those just those things that make the world feel a little bit bigger. You know the other. I meant to mention this before. The other street performers that the performance artists that he reminds me over evil knievel yes and Philip Petite. Now they can even for those that don't know trump over big things in oh by motorcycle canyons. He would try. Yeah and Philip. Petite walked a high wire between the Twin Towers. When they stood tragically adjective feet that will never be duplicated? Of course. is glorious documentary about that launch. I which I recommend but just kind of Houdini ask in the sense that they both risked their life and part of the awe and wonder there was that was there watching someone confronting death that way that they were escaping and and those two cases we knew how it was done. He got motorcycle fast. And somehow you know land sometimes and it had petites case it was okay. He's really good at walking on a wire right but we understand that it's different when you're up that far in that high and the wind and everything else about it And yet Houdini took that and added. I don't know how he did which is even crazier. Yeah and kept adding and kept finding new chapters. I mean that was the that was the end of evil. Knievel right is that evil knievel was was doing all of these things and doing these motorcycles and and crashing often enough that you knew there was a chance you were going to watch him break every bone in his body which we did and then he was like okay. Well Times run out on that. What are you GonNa do now? That's what I'm going to jump the Snake River Canyon and everybody thought he was going to do it in a motorcycle that he actually ended up some weird eared craft and then he didn't make it and you know the I don't even know what happened. No he didn't yeah he didn't die he didn't die in make it and then the parachute came out. And then he was out and then everybody but he was like yeah right that chapters over and And that's how it goes but you're right I mean he was. He was someone who who you know He. He saw the thought of himself as a magician. Any did you magic. He made the elephant disappeared. He walked Walson. He did various things but but when he captured was what street magician a street performer. Tight Rope Walker can do which is at their very best just lifter. Lift your spirits in a way that you just go. Wow Oh wow I mean. I'm I've never seen anything like that. So tell us. The Sarah Bernhardt story probably famous actress every day. I just saw my grandfather's WPRO certificate. His he was born in eighteen. Ninety seven on my father's side His first name was Bernhardt. Wow Spelled B. U. R. N. H. Chain are not His he was called burning all his life But I think he was named after. Sarah is weird. Yes was was an like Houdini. An enormous right celebrity of right I mean just and like Houdini. People had many many many different opinions about her but she was the actress of her day and many thought she was the greatest actress ever many thought she was the worst actress. Ever you know is it was very itchy. She's a fascinating figure much forgotten. You know which is which is tells you how how difficult it is but inner time. Her fame certainly surpass her. Dini's I mean she was. She was enormously famous ascended toward the end of her life. She had her leg amputated. She add she long had issues with her with her leg and and And she had added amputated and then she houdini being Houdini always looking for headlines Connected with her because she was given an award and then she was is asked to pay for the award which is very strange and Houdini saw this and immediately swept in and said I will happily pay for this award and and and and they became friends and she came to a performance of his. And and there's a an amazing photo that captures this scene. She comes and she says to. Houdini Houdini are so great. Can you give me back my leg and Houdini you know is is deeply deeply leap moved and touched and yet he has to say to her that I'm not really magical. I mean I can't really do that and she didn't believe him him she. She insisted that he tried to bring back her leg. And there's A. There's a glorious photos. She's sitting in a car and he's standing outside and she's looking through the window and there's a there's a deep deep sadness in her and as she realizes that Houdini her last hope is cannot bring back or lagging agonize. I just think that story's so powerful well I've read your Maria than you have but you describe it in. The book is saying we're in response today and he says I can only do the amazing. I can't do the impossible. Yes and I think that gets really important aspect of this. which is when you don't know how it's done you think it's impossible? Yeah I love the idea. Some of us like the idea of that that could be. You could get your back you could live forever right again. I think comes back to the word talent that hangs over humanity right but this idea that the miracles literally miracles. Don't just the the nineteen eighty miracle one is which is one of the more wondrous things I've seen But that the true miracles are bought. Things that defy understanding and we we have a piece assume that once that and it's that that story captures up for me yeah You know the original title is book was the amazing using impossible that was the original title. And and then as you you all know with publishing houses they were like you really going to write a book about Houdini and not have his name and the title. You're you're not going to do that. Yeah so that goes but But yeah there's there's there's a a very small but incredibly important -portant line between what is amazing and what is impossible and and the greatest magicians but I think also the greatest athletes and the greatest the greatest performers the greatest musicians the greatest singers and actors and they walk that line so that you see what Mike Trout does us and you think oh my gosh it's impossible. It's impossible for somebody to be this good at this game with that ball coming out of a hundred miles an hour and this and that and the other and it's not it's amazing and it's just right at that line between amazing impossible right the fact that we can't do marriage like this idea of what in sports sports could a can a decent amateur. Do and what can a decent amateur not too so a decent amateur can a weekend. Tennis player conservative. Nice sure Kim return a faster. Probably I'm thinking probably can't touch a roger. Federer serve right touching. It would be an achievement. Stephen might never get it back over the net into the into the court. It's so interesting you bring that specifically up because in one of my earlier episode Iv a tennis player in one of my earlier episodes when I was trying to do my participant type journalism I face. Greg Resent Ski. Who at the time at one of the great serves in the world and and you know and he was taking it easy on me? You know just so you know and I would barely get it back right slice it. I touch whatever. And then he hit a serve and and I it's indescribable because there are there. Are things that you like. If somebody hit a hundred and fifty mile our serve IRV like a an Andy Roddick serve. Of course it would never get to it. But that's not what he did. He hit a serve that bound so high. I literally lifted in my racket as high as I could go and jump and it was probably four feet above Iraq and I thought okay. That's now you've seen it. Now you've seen what. What the differences princes and so? Yeah so you would never be able to do that but then there are some things you could do right. You can get a Birdie and golf right absolutely Louis. You would struggle to do it at the masters right right with the cup. Set up the way they said it. Is that bad. Yeah pills I think golf and I'm of Somebody's got twenty times as life but one of the appeals of golf is that you seem on the surface to be doing something that the best in the world for doing it feels and playing softball ballgame is actually nothing like standing against Randy Johnson. No but you can pop up though but I don't think you could touch. You're we're I touch a Randy Johnson. Patch the fear factor combination. Touch it not not not hit a double in the ever ever the amount of effort it would take to get to it but we know it's not impossible because we know people do it to do it but they do it and I think a lot of what we're talking about here is that you know some of these things. We don't know that anyone can do except this one man. Yeah that's on present right and it's it's it's exactly the ones you do with the best. This was what was so. Oh you know what the difference between a magician and maybe a great a great pianist or something so if you're watching a great pianist playing and you're seeing there you know they'll have that close close up angled their fingers and you're like oh my gosh. I can't do that but a magician you know especially in today's world. They're doing that but making it look like they're doing nothing right so they're taking right they're gonNA hold different level and and so you know. Houdini of course was was constantly pushing. The I'm the only man of the world who can do any of these things which wasn't true but but the illusion was was extraordinarily powerful and and so yeah. I think that's that's when you see something like that. You think there's only one person who can do it. That's really bordering on the impossible right. That's that's where it gets our way out in the right can't do not just in the top one percent one yes let. Let's talk about celebrity And and I guess one way to think about Houdini the you've alluded to is that he was the master of PR. Yes in a way. He played the media We we've talked many times on the program about Adam. Smith's insight from from the theory of moral sentiments man naturally desires not only to be loved to put to be lovely and Smith says I loved. He means praised matter to matter to be honored to be respected He talks about when you walk into a room. People say oh they they notice that you're there is other people are just born visible and how painful that is this human beings we want to be loved when people to recognize our specialists and we want to be lovely went to earn the praise and respect and honor of those around us honestly and and we can fool ourselves and and delude ourselves about that but he he basically says you know there's two ways to be loved to be Seen as as as somebody body one is to pursue fame power and money People who have those three things are they. People pay a lot of attention to him And he says that's the wrong way to get there. He says that's the glittering path he says you take the quieter path of virtue and wisdom. And you know I think about that a lot. A- and the the quest for fame particularly in the Internet Social Media World the challenges of of not succumbing to that And Smith would argue that it wouldn't it wouldn't necessarily say this way but the pursuing that glittering path fame money and power is corrosive. You'll do things that you're going to be ashamed of. That are going to be in you and I loved. I saw Houdini as an incredible example. This problem you have this wonderful poem by Emily. Wally Dickinson. That I didn't know I'm a pretty big Dick van. I loved this. It's called. I called anything. She tytler problems but Her problems are often called by their first blonde. Fame is a be it has a song it has a sting To it has a wing and I thought boy what what I mean. It gives me goosebumps to read the poem and Especially knowing that Emily Dickinson was probably the least famous person in her lifetime. For how famous she is now. Yeah she's the Anti Houdini. She didn't promote herself died. I think none of proposer published. I think in her death and now is not just. Oh yeah well. She was a good politics still is speaks to modern just in a in a unusual way so let. Let's talk about that palm and what how it applies to Dany famous a B. has song. It has a sting To it has a wing of the song sting in the wing for Houdini. Well I think a he was neither. He was deeply in love with both the song and a staying. He didn't mind the staying at all so the song is of course everyone knowing Houdini and the money money he made and the fame and the cheers the you know he he. He was obsessed with it and loved it. So deeply the sting is you know. The the the impersonators that came along that that that that drove him mad the the many many people he alienated in his life. The friends that became enemies. He's the he he. He was willing to pay all those prices he was. He was willing to the very end of his life to be hated by group group in order to be loved by another and it was it was something that was deeply embedded in him but the wing the fact that flame fame to fly away. The fact actor fame can end at any point it haunted him haunted him every minute of every day there are there are fascinating fascinating diary entries that he would right because see right around nineteen nine. He'd been famous for a decade and much like what we talked about with evil knievel. There was a moment where it's sort. I've I've seen you escape from every possible thing you can escape from its you know okay. I'm bored I'm moving on and there's a there's an extraordinary diary entry wrote in Saint Louis where he just wrote essentially they didn't come then come to see me. Is this the end of Houdini. Is this the end of Houdini. And and he he meant it I mean they're they're scared he would. He was famous for telling people. You know that that this could ruin me. This'll be the end of maybe you know. And and Haunted him all of his life and so so we always did try to find the next thing next thing. Okay now I gotta add danger. Now I gotta add You know I've got a whole other flourish. I've gotta I've gotTa do the straitjacket escape upside down in the middle of town for free. I mean that's the the other you know. You came here to Washington. And did the upside down straitjacket escape right by the the Abbot Grill and and You know what the at the time was a theater by. Keith's theatre and and fifteen thousand people came to watch him. You know flooded flooded Washington and and it was all just as a promotion promotion for the show. It was all just okay. You got to see Houdini come out to the show tonight and but it was much more for him. It was it was getting that crowd and and having having everyone see him and it was he was desperate to always find that next all the way to the end of his life where his final stage really was unmasking of spiritualists ritualised and mediums. And and you know it was. It was certainly a devoted cause for him but it also put him back in the news and gave him headlines again and and you know at it was corrosive. There's no question and it's why there are people in this book who absolutely cannot stand Houdini. I mean their their voices are here a two and a you know it's because they felt you know one one of the great magic historians of today is a guy named Mike. Cave knee was a great magician as well And a wonderful person and he does not like Houdini and I said to him. Why is it? You don't like you Dini. And he said because Houdini was not enough to win everybody else has had to lose and and I think that that's that's the corrosive part of of needing to be more famous more famous more famous. Just play arm armchair armchair or a psychologist. He was sure sure he was an emigrant through was probably ashamed of not being born here because we know he lied about it. Sure ashamed of his poverty. Shamed of his father's failure reminds me a little bit about a weird parallel runs. It a little bit of Fi. LBJ Who who had a father. He felt didn't match up didn't meet his expectation and said I'm not going to be that guy. Yeah Yeah Yeah and Jewish. I mean you know that was a big part of his ear in those years when Jews were looked down on and struggled to get acceptance acceptance were discriminated against literally and in university admissions and elsewhere. He had a chip on his shoulder. Whole Life Hall? Another way to say yes yeah. I think that's absolutely zoe right. I I think the curse it was. It was a curse that he turned into something else he he he definitely like there is a part of I. Guess maybe this is. I don't think this is unique to Houdini. But there's a part I'm not going back. I'm not going to be that guy again. I'm not going to be poor again. I'm not going to be. He looked down on. Everyone will look at me and they will respect me and they will admire me and they will know my name and and I think it's amazing looking from the outside looking in Dan where you go let some point. You're the one of the most famous people in the world. Enjoy a little bit a can't and I think that's precisely the corrosive also nature. I think that's specifically. What would emily Dickinson is talking about in there is that is that at at no point does the be ever stopped flying and and when you have to endure that is a story? I'm sure you know that when when Marilyn Monroe came back from I think the Korean in war yes her husband was Joe Dimaggio and at that time she was married to some very interesting. Arthur Miller Miller yeah Not that many people were married. Joe Dimaggio and Arthur Miller One wants so she comes back from the tour and she's Joe says how was said and she says Oh. You can't imagine the cheers and said yes I can. Yeah I always haunted is story. Yeah cheers and Lisa. Yes I am the tragedy of Joe Maggio for me. Besides the fact that he's a Yankee which shaw leave side but the ends up his his remember by many the people as the as the spokesperson for the Mr Coffee absolutely coffee machine and in the Paul Simon Song. It's Scholten Joe has left and gone. Where are you where have you gone? Joe Dimaggio jolted. Joe Is left and gone away. He's still around is selling coffee. Makers yeah and that's was obviously it's for the money but it's also because he just wants to have somebody pay attention to them all. It's so interesting and of course the one of the most ever since I learned it just stuck with me so much that Paul Simon's hero was Mickey Mantle. It was not not Joe Dimaggio but Joe module better in the song. It's so so for the meter. Yeah so he was just the lyric he was more of a lyric at that point. And you know and and Jodi module at the end of his life insisting on always being introduces the greatest living ballplayer and and you know it's sad it said but I do believe that that that is that is a rule without exception. I think if fame vein does not ever lead to anything beyond the craving for more fame right I I just I. I don't. I'm not saying the famous a bad thing. I'm just saying that that the pursuit of fame never ends. Yeah that's It's an it's an again. It's a challenge of of of life. You're you're you're famous Write your famous but you could be more famous show. Yeah and you could spend a lot more time out. Yeah sure you spend a little time no matter but I try to spend as little as possible because it it is corrosive Writing a book an interesting experience as you know because it it i. It's all you care about right and you think I've just got to make sure it gets this bookstore on it. Gets this publicity. Gets this article. It's hard not to resist. That Siren. Call what is all the book. It's it's a very different thing because you've worked so hard on it and it's so many pretty lonely hours of of of struggle and and you know and this book was so much fun because I got to talk to so many people but it's still hundreds of hours of sitting in my little office by I myself my girls you know wanting to do something and I've got to be be sitting there typing and thinking and working and structuring and all these other things and so when it's over you want people to read it you know so so that is it is hard to avoid that kind of thing but I think some of it you know it's Theme aim of this conversation is. It's that it's that it's that thirst for immortality it's I I say this a lot. It's it's it's it's a joke but it's not really a joke for most authors. There's that I know. Their books are like their children. Yeah they can't talk about them. Rationally they love beyond reason they defend them Irrationally short because it's their offspring their creation their child and both of them. Have this think they are some. What of a gateway to immortality? There's something you can leave behind. Yeah I think that's right. I used to always have this dream of being able to walk into a library and say To the Librarian I'm wondering if do you have any any fitzgerald any Dickinson any Poznansky. You know that was always. I've never done it but it was always my dream. I Yes yeah I think you want to. You want to leave your work behind especially as journalist where you know so much of what you do is is gone. You know immediately so seating yeah it's fleeting but of course we're books and so is at the end of the day were I. I have no end up on the remainder Tayeb exactly. I know irrational channel feelings. That some day they're gonNA call my book Moby Dick. I don't I don't feel that way but you know you do work so hard on them and and and you do you want them to be seeing you want them to be and you know in a way. That's a pursuit of fame. And in another way it's it's sort of a way way to tell yourself that what you did was worth your time. Yeah self-justification I read a quote from The screenplay of recent movie yesterday which Have you seen it. I have we're not going to talk about the plot Because there's going to be no spoilers here but there is a agent who talks to a songwriter? WHO's not I've been successful and now all of a sudden he's a big deal and she says to him You've hit an extraordinary songwriting group. And you want to be the biggest star in the world. He says well well she says yes the answer to that question. Well yes I guess not. Well yes I guess yes I guess and then she says says and I just love this as so smithian buddy when I'm offering you is the great and glorious poisoned shallows of money and fame name. If you don't want to drink it which I would understand go back and have a warm beer and little Bonnie England drink it. I need to hear you say Deborah. I'm so thirsty. GimMe the Goddamn Chalice. So which is it he says. I'll take the chalice but I think that description a love it. The Great and Glorious Poison Chalice of money and fame gets what what Adam Smith was talking about. And what we've what we're talking about. I do think it's possible to keep fame in perspective or naturally But it's not our nature and you have to fight against. I think the ones that do you know the people that that you see. The the famous the famous actors and musicians nations and performers and and you know and and scientists and economists who achieve. I'm glad you put two different categories scientists and economists. Ah I I want to separate yes. I knew that No but there are people that do handle fame. Well the ones that you talk to go by. It's like nothing you know. We admire those people and the reason we admire them is because it's a hard and it's you know and and your your point about the you know. Just someone like me. I there are steps. You're on a staircase and you know if you take that next step you might get to be a little more famous. Take that next step. You might get but each each step that you're taking is taking your further away from what you feel like matters so so we all feel. There's a koper level. We we all feel on that staircase and I think. Houdini had to get to the top of the staircase. Whatever that was and of course it doesn't have a top right? It's a never ending. slatter Jacob's ladder exactly different kinds of ladder anyway. reminds me What did you say that again? What you just said what? What was that About Oh you're on the staircase. Yeah you're if you're not careful you're getting you're getting further and further. You said from what matters it reminds me of the the you know the the coach or the politicians. I WANNA go to spend more time with my family's stepping down usually. It's because they're never choice right. Few people actually sues to spend more time with their families which makes me very sad but I think that's the reality. I think that's right and I think you're right. I love you know 'cause I just invented that staircase thing just a minute ago but but I love that. The I'm stepping down. That's really what they always say. I'm stepping down to spend more time with my family to focus on my. You know my mental all health or whatever. The case may be when you went to high you climb too high it should be. I'm stepping up. Yes that's exactly right No you're a big springsteen fan yes and I did not see springsteen on Broadway but I did watch the Netflix version. which by the way was a wonderful experience? I thought I thought the having seen it on Broadway and seeing Neth Lex I thought they were different but equally wonderful so it's beautifully done He I appears to have some. We don't know if it's acting or not but he is he he's reflective yes about fame in that in that In that show in a way. That's very powerful. I think it makes a great experience rather than just. It's fun to watch him play Kucinich versions of some of his great songs. But I think what makes it. Special is that his self reflection election about his childhood his parents his father's desire to please as fathers need for his father's love It's a very intense Again vulnerable all exposure which is part of what again great performances often what makes wondrous and and so and so moving And in his book which I did not read but my brother did also understand very honest or at least appearing to be yes. And maybe you have to live long enough to put fame mm-hmm in perspective and the The those who die young which of course many do because they flew to I or destroy themselves in other ways besides death Just I ever get that chance right. Well I I think. The book is very similar to the Broadway show. There's a lot from the book in the show so that's very similar. He just recently put out a movie. He called Western skies. Which is which is which I saw and loved? He is definitely at a stage where I think he always did. Try Cry in a way that I think is a little bit. You know unusual to keep it in perspective to to think about what matters you know. When when he had his first? I big huge bits of fame. He felt very uncomfortable with it. Didn't like it and didn't and rebelled against it to a great extent and then had a a later moment element where he tried to sort of embrace the fame and didn't find happiness doing that. So he's a he's lived a fascinating life and a very public life and now he he is. Because he's Bruce springsteen because he has this incredible fan base he can he has the option and he's taken the option to sort of speak to those people all all of us in an honest way about the regrets. He has and the feelings of fame and and what that was like and how he got here and what it was the created. And it's it's it's a gifted but it's a gift that a lot of people had that opportunity. It's it's fascinating that he's taking that opportunity it. I'm thinking thinking about What motivates artists? And my brother. WHO's a big? I'm a big springsteen fan. You're bigger than I am. My brother's much bigger than I am about bigger than I am too. Yeah but meaning. He seen him maybe twenty times. I've seen him three times. I think twice three times two or three times But my brother likes to point out. That springsteen is one of the rare artists that I would put mark Knopfler as the other one I can think of who at the age of fifty sixty and seventy is still putting out solo solo albums of new new. Yes there are. Two new albums are compilations live performances and first of all it takes tremendous amount of skill to do that but Bill had had a great moment of honesty is somebody who thinks underrated incredibly talented song writer. Performer who has not put out a new record decades right and very few put anything really after the age of forty. It's kind of incredible in the in the pop world and somebody asked why don't you. Why don't you put records? And he said all the last one I put out nobody bought it and he wasn't interested in expressing himself. Self Right which is what is the ideal of the artist if it wasn't gonNA be enjoyed by somebody other than himself yeah I may be still writes this on songs for fun. I doubt it but What's interesting to me about springsteen it's interesting to me about about Dylan and you can see Dylan's confronting his own not not literally really but you you can? It's revealed in the Scorsese documentary. No Direction home which is an extraordinary piece of film. I guess His unease with fame name and his part of his going electric was an attempt to really put a swing in the eye of his fan base. And say you know not only not care what you think. I'm getting joy not carry. You don't like it. Yeah I just think that's an interesting tension and I don't remember anything more to say about it but what you know. I think that's all right and I think there are. People who've rebelled hard against fame. Like Dillon but dillon. Continue to put out music right and continues continues to this day to put on music the thing I love about springsteen's the last fifteen years. Probably since the rising probably since nine eleven which sparked a whole different level level of creativity from him. You know he was so deeply moved by as we all were about night by nine eleven that he felt. I have something to say. It's is he's been really vulnerable. He's put out a bunch of music and not all of. It's been good and not all of its. Even you know they're always springsteen apologists. Were many many of them very good friends of mine. Say they're all all good. They're all good every song grade like really queen at the supermarket. No I mean not. Every song is great but but I loved it. He's out there and still trying crying and he could. He could cash in in such a big way. Just being Bruce springsteen and and playing born of Ron five hundred nights at a year. Yeah I mean he could do what everyone Ed. But he's out there putting you know. I was just listening to Western skies yesterday and I was listed movie version where he plays with an orchestra and it's beautiful uniform and I love all of it but I love most of it and it's and it's really vulnerable. It's totally different from anything that he's done before and I I think that's I think that's really special. I think he's I think I love. It's almost like I love Bruce Springsteen's music but I love the idea of what Bruce springsteen tried to do even more when you think of different artists Some of them or so uneasy taking a risk that they just performed from the greatest hits over and over again and I get that and A lot of talk about magical. I'm glad they're alive. It's it's it's it's it's hard to believe that Mick Jagger alive and others and then they're the ones who get up and take a chance and I I it's just think about born turned around. We walk with me out on the wires. I'm scared and lonely. What's the neck? I remember the next time but writer writer. I wonder how it feels One of love is love Israel. Yeah Karen but but the idea of being out on the wire ties into what we're talking about before the the fully petite on the wire of of of Between the World Trade Center and then Dany again Right always pushing always pushing to you know for Houdini. I think it was pushing uh for fame pushing for headlines and you know that was. That's what equal fame. I mean he was a time before radio. You know. Just at the very beginning ending of silent film You know he was always pushing for that headline and I think other artists like springsteen but but many others writers particularly same idea right right the same thing you did before. Yeah I mean people will tell you do a sequel do sequel of this. You know I just saw Brian Koppelman. WHO'S A it was? A wonderful creator does billions and did the movie Rounders and he's only been sixteen thousand times to do a sequel to rounders and he's he's not GonNa do it because there's no new ground there. There's nothing new for him to to go after this money but it is pretty nice. Nice you got a little fame right. Ah Thankful for those. I'm thankful for those people that are. I'm thankful that you can go see the rolling stones performed satisfaction. I mean that's great but I'm more thankful for the people who are who are willing for the authors that are willing to just write something entirely different because that's where their their heart moves them or communication that goes to a completely different place even if it upsets the fans. Because it's like you have to on a journey and your your hopefully will become with me because you're part of it and I think that's really special on a at a very special part of celebrity and I don't I think Houdini asked his people to come with him but he always it was always conditional you know it was always You have to come with me and big in big numbers or I'm going to try something else because that's that's what matters so. When I started your book I had a particular image of Houdini my mind which was Magical Shirley relief just that. He was this special charismatic Unique thing I didn't know much about and I'm sad to say a little bit that that now that I'm done with the book He's fallen down in my estimation he's there's not just the smithian thing about the pursuit of sure he was good mom. We should say that. We haven't mentioned very good to his mother yes How did your feelings about them? Change over over the course of the book. It's quite a bit just because of something. We talked about the very beginning. which is what what part of him is real? And what part isn't and in and so much of what we know about. Houdini is not true and so much of what we think about. Houdini is not true. And and and it's hard to grasp it's a little bit like fog trying to grasp what is real about this guy and there are many many say because I feel like it's so easy to push the other aside many many really likeable qualities about Houdini. I mean there you don't I don't think you become that successful and famous without having these really likeable qualities he was a he was devoted mother. He loved kids he he was really for someone who chased fame and money in care about money he was. He was escort Caper for improper. No creature comforts. You Know He. He spent all of his money on magic books and he was devoted to the art of Magic to the point where he kept trying to find old magicians and learn from them and make them you know he would he would. After magicians at died he would spend you know his money to make their gravesites special and He was devoted to a lot of really interesting and and even he was likable in in so many different ways. And then there was this other side of him that was very unlikable and and and he was egotistical and he was difficult and You know the bigger he got a little ruthless ruthless little a lot ruthless. Yeah no he was. You know one of the famous stories that that I tell in the book is is that he heard about an impostor awesome clip. Pini who is who is Copying his act and he stopped his tour literally stopped tour for three days and could Pini was not tamous he was just a just a street magician trying to scrap for a few box and Houdini heard about him and stopped us tour and went and found mound him dressed up as an old man in a costume in in the crowd scene. Out of a movie. It's a scene out of a movie. He's he's he's in a crowd crowd dressed up and then when clip Eimi says okay who has handcuffs to challenge me with. Houdini goes I do need any goes up with a cane limps to the stage and puts handcuffs and immediately after doing that tears off. The costume says I the audience may make a home now for. I am the Great Houdini and no man handcuffed by Houdini ever escapes and he was right. Clipping couldn't get out of the handcuffs and he waited a long time I before leading clipping the out of the handcuffs so there was a ruthless. Fe- felt somebody was trying to take advantage of him. Make a name of his name. He was yeah absolutely ruthless. Yeah the cartoon. I've mentioned before which is the. I'll be up in a minute honey. I said something wrong on the Internet. You know it's like he can't let it can't let it go. You can't let it go could not let it go and so so you have this wonderful and and not so wonderful. Mix of many many different from qualities that Houdini had. So as you're writing about him you know there are things you really like about them. They're things you really don't like about him and I think what I came away. Hey with was this an admiration for somebody who knew what he wanted and whether or not it's it was worth wanting you know is is not for me to to to argue. It would be for me but for him. He was going to become the most famous magician in the world. The most famous person in the world he WHO's going to be remembered forever and he he made it happen out of nothing literally. Nothing you know. He was just a poor kid in New York. You're an immigrant and a Jew and and and someone who had to endure incredible odds to make anything of himself much. Celeste become this figure that we still remember all these years later. And Harry are November. Six twenty one thousand nine still talking about him in Washington. DC Hoover Institution. It's pretty amazing. Hang up how did it change you. How did Writing about a long dead mysterious UND- really knowable person change change. You if at all yeah I think there were a couple of pretty significant sort of personal things for me. One is more structural. Oh I think this is my first non sportsbook. I'd written for five collection of sports books before and they're hard. Every book is hard you know I mean I wrote a book Joe Paterno in the middle of the world's pretty hard yeah. That was hard. So they're all hard. Ah but I was always on solid ground. You know I was always i. Was this wheelhouse right. I'm sports writer and I know everybody in sports and if I know someone who does and it was and this was a book I knew nobody knew very little when I started I had this. I came in his book with an idea and I did not know a single person and magic not one. I literally contacted David Copperfield through the contact us bar on his Internet page for his for his casino where he performs and I knew nobody and had no real ends and then building and talking to people in developing relationships ships them introducing me to other people who meet other people. I loved that being on the wire again. You know that's that was. I didn't know how Oh that would be. I really didn't and you know it's so easy to get comfortable and you know just pick a pick a baseball topic and I you know I know enough people in Baseball Ball. I can make it work but and by the way my next book my very well be that but for this opportunity I found it myself how much I loved loved being nervous and anxious and not knowing what the next step was and not knowing where it was going to go I I wondered that because I think it's so easy to get comfortable and so so I love that so that that was the first thing I really learned about myself is that yeah. There's still a part of me that wants that that wants to be in a completely difficult An unknowable situation. The second thing was this really did sort of make me think about what my writing has been about and what I wanted to be about and this idea of wonder was exactly how I came to this project. That was exactly actually my. That was the thing I told them at the publishing house. My told my agent told my wife that I really wanted to write about wonder but having done it and having written about all of these amazing characters and you know beyond Houdini I I started to think this has been a theme of my life. You know sort of where we started this conversation. I think I wrote you mentioned this. I wrote a piece about taking my daughter's Hamilton which went one of the greatest greatest essays of last few years. May It's a spectacular but a link to it. I sent it around to all my family read. Write it more than once. Read it last night again. It's great thank you. Thank you th- and it was very special because it was obviously very personal and I just put it on my blog and I didn't I just wrote out you know and that's about wonder under you know and I started thinking about all of these pieces taking my daughter to potter world. Will you know for for for an essay called Katie the prefect writing reading about my father and springsteen and and the connection there and and and then of course all of the sports pieces that I've written in all of these. You know my favorites there are. That's about wonder it's about these things that are not quite explainable. These feelings that that emerged from seeing being you know that that thing that's bordering on the impossible right right there between the amazing and the impossible and I sort of so. I don't want this to sound. Overly you know anything. Because I'm an incredibly on. I don't like saying anything good about myself but I kinda I think that's my purpose. I kind of you know. That's that's what I started thinking was. I thought all of the success that I've had as a writer has sort of been me in search of of these moments of wonder and and I think you know I i. I don't know that book changed it but clarified that in mind and you know thinking. I don't WanNa do any projects that don't feed off of that. I mean look sports writer. So I'll I'll you know right my takes on stuff that's gone wrong and I'll rip the NC Double A.. And do whatever you know whatever the case may be I have strong feelings but in a larger sense I really do believe that my purpose is is to sort of see about sparking that that wondering wondering people and so so. That's that's a great gift that I got from this book. My guest today is Joe. PAS Danske his book is the life and Afterlife Afterlife of Harry Houdini Joe Thanks for being part of ECON talked. Oh thank you. This was so much fun for me. This is ECON- talk part of the Library of Economics and liberty for Maury contact cody contact dot org where you can also comment on. Today's podcast and find links and readings related to today's conversation. The sound engineer recon talk rich. Go yet I'm your host Roberts. Thanks for listening. Talk to you on Monday Sunday.

Coming up next